What Is Spiritual Authority? Am I under it?

How do we determine spiritual authority?

Spiritual Authority is a phrase we hear a lot in Christian culture, but what does it look like practically? When I think of Practical Spirituality, there is an initial introspection. ‘What is Phil Rice currently doing internally to fortify his own spirituality and his connection to God?’ But to stop at the introspection is to miss much of what it means to be a spiritual Jesus follower. He called us to one another.

I’m no expert on Christian togetherness [and how it relates to Spiritual Authority], but these are my thoughts…

I’ve had many conversations about ‘what is church?’ over the last number of years. Half of these conversations seem to percolate over dinner or coffee with friends who have for one reason or another found themselves lacking spiritually communal momentum. The other half have been with people amidst normal coming and going asking me, ‘So… what church do you go to?’.

My response to the latter is typically, either, ‘I’m a part of a small house church,’ or ‘I don’t go to church.’ Both would be true, depending on the context. I am numbered among a group of people who follow Jesus alongside one another, who care for one another, who encourage one another as we journey toward knowing God more deeply.

Do we meet together every Sunday morning? No. Do we ever meet all together as a group? No. Do we all live in the same city? No [some of our hang outs are even over Facetime]. Do we have a head pastor or group leader? No.

As this conversation typically continues, there is the inevitable question… well, if this is the case, who’s spiritual authority are you under? Who is your covering?

What does it mean to be submitted to another person?

Ephesians 5 communicates that we who count ourselves as followers of Christ are to submit to one another in the fear of God. So what does that mean for us? How do we submit to one another?

Submit defined – accept or yield to a superior force or to the authority or will of another person.

We are to submit to one another, meaning, we are to yield to the authority and perspective of other God fearing human beings, as we [each] read his scripture and listen daily to his Holy Spirit.

Are you covered [under spiritual authority]?

Another phrase I hear from well meaning people, when I communicate that I am not part of an organized church is, ‘I just feel that it’s important that you are covered.’ As if putting me in an organizational structured umbrella magically covers my life the moment I join a church organization. I think of spiritual covering less like a structured umbrella and more like a band of brothers [and sisters], to use the wartime analogy. Being covered means, you have my back and I have yours, that I’m looking out for you from your unguarded sides and you’re looking out for me. We are covering each other.

Not a matter of structure or non structure

Whether gathering every Sunday morning in a large building, spontaneously around the dinner table, biweekly around an iPad Facetime call, or during a monthly group therapy session, the structure of our gathering does not [within itself] solve for the problem of authority and covering.

Who are my people?

The phrase one another communicates a back and forth, a give and take – I submit to you, my fellow sojourner. I’m committed to you, love you, and trust you. You submit to me, your fellow sojourner. You’re committed to me, love me, and trust me.

The answer to the question of authority, in my opinion, is more appropriately answered when we first begin with another question; Who are my people?

Who are the people I can count as fellow sojourners, who hold common values of how we will, over time, pursue Jesus together?

How then shall we live?

I want to reiterate that spiritual authority is not a question of how we gather [gather in whatever structure makes most sense for you and your tribe in this particular season of life], but rather, who we commit ourselves to.

So let’s continue the conversation from here. Who are your people? Who has your back? Who are the people who hold your values and challenge you to be more like Jesus? Go be with those people and, together, bring light and understanding to dark and confusing places.


Any thoughts?

Any of this resonate? I’d love to continue the conversation and hear your thoughts.

Thanks for journeying alongside,
Phil Rice


Oh yeah, and if you resonate with this article, consider joining the conversation more regularly! I send out a super helpful [I think it’s helpful] short email with [5] highlights of content over the last month [or so], my 5-things email — meaningful content for the religiously disillusioned [or spiritually tired] seeking to practically and authentically follow Jesus in real life.


Phil writes like he speaks – with a God-centered, challenging, winsome humility. He gives permission to reflect on the edge about what it means to be the Church. — Lance H.

8 thoughts on “What Is Spiritual Authority? Am I under it?

  1. Thanks so much for your thoughts Katie! That’s a good question. For Becky and me it’s definitely a mixture of both. And I would also say we are in the midst of processing that for our life right now. Maybe a better way to think about “submitting one to another” would be — who are the people whom I am known by and know in a similar way? Who are the people who we are giving permission to know us and speak into our lives?

    There are some who know us who don’t live near us [who fit the skype or long car ride regular connects] and a few that do live near us. Each relationship is valuable to us and we wouldn’t give them up [give them up meaning, give them less time and energy because we don’t have it to give] simply to “gather in the way that we’re suppose to gather.”

    We are committed to “not forsake the gathering” (Hebrews 10). But I absolutely appropriate to seek the Lord and ask him who are those you are to gather with and what does gathering look like?

    Becky and I know each other and in ways it’s the most “know and be known” relationship that we have. But for us it’s totally necessary to have outside relational influences that help us navigate life together.

    All that to say, you’re asking the right questions. A few thoughts to add to your process if they’re helpful:

    If you haven’t yet found a local community of people, what’s to stop you from connecting with your long distance friends on skype more regularly while you look for those who fit your rhythms, value, and lifestyle more locally? The pressure will be to “find a church” because you haven’t yet found the answer to your question [who are the people we are to spiritually relate to?]. But landing in a church isn’t necessarily solving the problem for your family — how are we to live our life together with people who hold common values, rhythms, lifestyle? and who are these people? Your “finding a church home” appeases other people, but might actually be taking relational energy away from finding your people and your place.

    Love your thoughts. Love your process. And Becky and I would absolutely love to have a skype date with you guys to continue the convo if that would be helpful 😉


  2. I have really enjoyed reading this entry especially alongside the post on church life. One question they have left me with though is how closely one must walk to provide an adequate amount of spiritual authority. Very few of “my people” live in the same city as I do, and therefore, they only know what I am able to convey to them. As honest and vulnerable as I intend to be, I am certain that someone living the ins and outs of daily life with me would be more apt to recognize my blind spots.
    I am fortunate to have a Jesus loving spouse who loves me enough to challenge me, but is just one person enough?

    Some of my thoughts…

  3. Accountability and authority are things we serve one another with in humility – no organization can provide them. False accountability provided by structure not relationship is nothing but a great place to hide.

    You’re speaking words of freedom Phil.

  4. Thank you for your thoughts Scott. You really narrowed in on a point that I was hoping I was able to accurately express. When someone says, “What church do you go to?” and I respond, “I am just part of a small group of spiritual relationships [not an organized church]”. Usually the next question is, “Well, who is your spiritual authority?” This is actually not the correct next question. Especially considering if I answered the question by saying, “I attend such-and-such church.” There would be no further comment on my connection to that group. This lack of follow up is assuming that I’m obviously “covered” because I participate with that group on some level. But the question is not whether or not I am connected to an organization. The question is whether or not I am connected to people. Attending a meeting once (or twice) a week, does not give me a pass on answering the question, “who are my people?” [who am I relationally committed to?].

    Thanks for adding dimension and perspective to the conversation my friend!

  5. Good stuff. I resonate with it a lot. I think we put to much on spiritual authority being the pastor’s responsibility because it is easy and usually doesn’t happen. What you are talking about is messy and takes time and commitment which unfortunately as believers we are unwilling to do. We must walk this life together and walk through the messy journey together. Grab the muck boots and hang on. Carry one another’s burdens. Give loving advice and direction along the way. Love, pray, listen, and seek to understand. Good stuff bro.

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